Two out of three ain’t bad

Richard Nevin gets the festival season underway at Wychwood.

It’s something of a festival cliché, as the sun sets on a beautiful evening that the crowd, arms in the air, sing and sway along to an grand old tune being knocked out by the second to last band on the main stage.

I’d never experienced it myself, until the Saturday of this year’s Wychwood Festival, when the Proclaimers, making their second visit to the annual event, gave a rendition of their thirty-five year-old paean to their birthplace, Sunshine on Leith. Long a favourite of mine for reasons far too dull to go into, this anthem of thanks and positivity was the perfect song at the perfect time.

Of course it wouldn’t have had the same effect without that one thing that makes or breaks a festival: the weather. This year’s Wychwood, now into its eighteenth year, was blessed with glorious sunshine for the whole weekend (although I only attended the first two days) – not too hot, a nice breeze but it did get chilly after our friend the sun vanished, people donning pullovers, cardigans, macs, cagoules and the like.

The festival has a reputation for being chilled and family-friendly and I can confirm that it’s very much the case, ideal for kids and those of us that are beyond the lairiness, chaos and endless queues of the festivals and mega-gigs of our past. There appears to be something for everyone, from holistic healers to belly dancing and bhangra workshops, from children’s activities to shops and funfair rides.

The music, on the main stage at least, relies heavily on nostalgia, as epitomised by Fridays’ headliners the Happy Mondays. Another bucket list moment for me, seeing them for the first time as they kicked off with the incomparable Kinky Afro. The glorious voice of Rowetta, a teenage crush of mine that has never faded, floating around the arena as Shaun Ryder (now confirmed as a national treasure by the looks of things) barked and honked in the background as only he can and Bez? Well, Bez did Bez things. As darkness descended the light show took full effect and we were back in the glorious summer of 1990, all bucket hats, that World Cup and feeling utterly invincible.

Us Brummies were represented earlier in the day as another version of The Beat, this time lead by the son of Rankin’ Roger, played the hits to match the sunshine and the ska and reggae continued with Bristol-based outfit Dualers, who had us all skanking around the field with a cover of Toots and the Maytals’ Monkey Man. Reggae then turned to rock as Ash lead the way for the Mondays. The band from Downpatrick, much like their Scottish counterparts who played the same slot the day after, certainly know their way round a tune.

Knowing your way around anything was certainly an advantage. The festival site has relocated to the other side of Cheltenham Racecourse, with the stunning Cleeve Hill as a natural and breathtaking backdrop. This meant the campsite was adjacent to the arena for the first time but for day visitors such as myself, it was a bit of trek from the racecourse entrance not to mention trying to grab a cab. We did enquire at the information point but they were in the same boat as the bar that didn’t have any ice; they didn’t have any information. But rather than being annoying, this was amusing and somewhat charming. In these days of huge corporate gigs with professional stewards and military-like organisation, it was change to experience such a relaxed approach.

We were certainly more clued up on day two, and so were the bars who had an abundance of ice but longer queues as the Saturday bought more people out. A field of camping chairs and blankets awaited the likes of Scouting for Girls, Heather Small and Sleeper on the main stage but we opted for a stroll round to see what was happening on the other minor stages. This is where you find the gems you don’t expect, and true to form we found ourselves enjoying the joyous and uplifting sounds of a traditional Big Band, the Kris Nock Big Band in this case. who made the perfect warm-up before we headed back down the hill to grab a decent spot for the Proclaimers.

Craig and Charlie Reid’s hook-laden melodies and razor sharp lyrics were very much in evidence as they rattled off a twenty song set inevitably climaxing with 500 Miles, with at least two of us referencing a Scottish full-back of note during the chorus. As the last chords drifted off into the air, the sun finally dipped beyond the horizon and we took our leave and heading back up the famous Cheltenham hill, the air may have turned chilly but we could still feel the warm glow from that Sunshine On Leith, and just like the writers of that ageless ballad, we’ll be back at Wychwood.